Ministers accused of backing ‘bad bosses’ as fire and rehire reforms blocked

The Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill faltered at its first major stage in the Commons.

David Lynch
Friday 22 October 2021 15:27 BST
Barry Gardiner’s Bill was blocked in the Commons (PA)
Barry Gardiner’s Bill was blocked in the Commons (PA) (PA Archive)

The Government has been accused of siding with “bad bosses” after it blocked reforms to curb the use of controversial fire and rehire tactics.

MPs spent almost five hours debating proposals introduced by Labour MP Barry Gardiner aimed at making sure the practice of firing workers and rehiring them on worse terms is only used in the last resort.

But Mr Gardiner accused the Government of “filibustering” and being “cowardly” as it blocked his Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill at its first major stage in the Commons.

A bid to end the debate early and move to a second reading vote was defeated, while business minister Paul Scully spoke for more than 40 minutes as time for debate on Friday ran out.

The Government also faced criticism from the Conservative benches for scheduling a statement on an unrelated health policy from vaccines minister Maggie Throup on Friday, a day usually reserved for proposed legislation tabled by backbench MPs.

In politics, it’s rare to find something that absolutely everyone agrees on and yet all the way from Len McCluskey to the Prime Minister himself, everyone agrees fire and rehire is wrong

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP

Mr Gardiner’s private member’s Bill now falls to the bottom of the list and is unlikely to progress to committee stage, where it would have undergone line-by-line scrutiny.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Government has chosen to side with bad bosses by failing to take action to tackle fire and rehire today.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added: “The antics of the Conservative Party today have been a disgrace.

“They have colluded to stand on the side of bullying bosses and against the interests of workers, showing their real colours. So the hypocrisy of the Tory party was on full display for all to see. They say one thing but do another.”

Mr Gardiner’s Bill came after a months-long campaign by the Brent North MP, in which he visited employees facing fire and rehire across the UK and attended the Conservative Party conference to garner cross-party support.

The Labour MP told the Commons: “In politics, it’s rare to find something that absolutely everyone agrees on and yet all the way from Len McCluskey to the Prime Minister himself, everyone agrees fire and rehire is wrong. So why is the Government determined to block this Bill?

“The tactic of filibustering to talk the Bill out is cowardly. It seems the Government do not wish to be seen actually to vote against the Bill itself. They would rather pretend under the cloak of a closure motion that they want to go on talking about it so it simply runs out of time.”

Conservative MP Peter Bone (Wellingborough) criticised the scheduling of a ministerial statement by the Government, noting: “It seems to me this is talking about something for next year. There are 17 Bills to be debated today, why is it urgent to put this statement on today on private members’ time rather than Government?”

Tory MP Peter Bone hit out at the decision to schedule a Government statement on Friday (Jessica Taylor/PA)
Tory MP Peter Bone hit out at the decision to schedule a Government statement on Friday (Jessica Taylor/PA) (PA Media)

Ms Throup said she wanted to “update the House as soon as possible” on a health rewards scheme to tackle obesity.

Earlier in the debate, Mr Gardiner explained his Bill would not ban fire and rehire as this could have “perverse consequences”, but he added it would put on a “statutory footing” the practice followed by good employers.

But several Conservative MPs spoke against the Bill, with Conservative MP Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) saying: “There’s only one thing worse than fire and rehire and this is allowed to happen if this Bill goes through, it’s fire and not rehire. That would be the concern.”

For the Government, Mr Scully said legislation agreed in the context of a pandemic is not “the right way to reflect the concerns for the long-term issue about workers’ rights”.

He said: “We will legislate if we need to, but we’ll do it as a last resort, not as a first resort.”

He insisted the Government is taking action, adding: “Earlier this year we asked (conciliation service) Acas to produce more comprehensive clearer guidance, as I’ve said, to help all employers explore those options before considering fire and rehire.”

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